Saving Private Memory

There is a subtle (and important) difference between a memory and a remembrance. The former consists of information which originates in personal experiences that we gather and store in our brain. A remembrance, on the other hand, is the selective “downloading” of processed information that already exists in our memory.

The collective memory of a society is not limited to personal experiences. The members of a community contribute their remembrances to create a coherent narrative about the past. An individual can have no memory of events that took place two or three generations before he or she was born. And yet, through the telling of stories by older members of the community, each one of us inherits elements of our common cultural memory.

Language and narration transform fragmented memories into a historical memory that helps us make sense of the past and the present. History records what came before; memory endows it with meaning; and emotion transforms both history and memory into a comprehensive whole that can shape the future, through its dissemination to the public at large.

The meaning of things

An ecomuseum cannot exist without the active participation of the local population. It requires its knowledge and dreams to interpret space, and identify those special places where visitors should stop and pay attention. Professional researchers, academicians, and public authorities will provide the technical expertise, resources, facilities, and guidance. The public will endow the territory, the artifacts, and the environment with an emotional meaning that will make them stand out. Cultural heritage, whether tangible or intangible, has an inherent value as a testament to the past, and an explanation for the present. It is lived experience, though, that transforms a lifeless object, a building, a past strike, or a song into a celebration of humanity’s existence and triumph over adversity.

The stories of Eleusis

So how can the ecomuseum benefit the people of Eleusis? Its creation encourages the local population to identify the narratives and past events that have the greatest significance for the communal identity. Individuals are invited to provide their photos, personal archives, experiences and memories from their professional, social, or cultural life. They can express their feelings and attitudes towards the environment (urban or natural) that has formed the background to their lives. They can pinpoint sites or buildings that carry a special significance to them, thus assisting the professional researchers to transform Eleusis into a living and breathing community full of amazing stories that people for far and wide will be eager to learn.

A gift that keeps on giving

The ecomuseum of Eleusis will weave together memories and remembrances to foster awareness among the local population of their culture’s dignity. It will contribute to the study of the past; it will clarify the present; and will instil confidence in the future. It will foster social cohesions, since all strata of the population will participate as equals in the project, and realize the strength that exists in diversity. There are no preferential stories or points of view. Eleusis was created by the multitude of generations that have preceded us, but requires the contribution of all its current residents if it is to thrive in the future.

The museum will also have tangible benefits. Eleusis will be transformed from a town known for its archaeological site into a destination where antiquity and industrial heritage bear witness to the complexity and liveliness of human experience. The narratives that will grow from the memories and remembrances of the local participants will attract visitors from far and wide. Their presence will invigorate the local economy, encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, increase the town’s visibility on a global scale, and become an inspiration for other towns. But above all else, the ecomuseum will elevate the people of Eleusis to masters of their own destiny.

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